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Former Garcetti staffer says an aide’s unwanted kissing and touching was ‘an open secret’

Los Angeles City Hall
Los Angeles City Hall.
(Frederic J. Brown / AFP/Getty Images)

A former high-level aide to Los Angeles Mayor Eric Garcetti testified last month that former Garcetti advisor Rick Jacobs kissed both her and her husband on the mouth without their consent, and that a male Garcetti staffer separately complained to her that Jacobs made a pass at him.

Former Garcetti communications director Naomi Seligman said in deposition testimony that Jacobs grabbed her and kissed her on the lips in 2016 in front of several staffers, an incident she called humiliating. Seligman, who worked in the mayor’s office from 2015 to 2017, also testified that she complained about the incident to Garcetti chief of staff Ana Guerrero but that nothing was done.

The deposition, a copy of which The Times reviewed Thursday, contained several explosive allegations about Jacobs — now at the center of a sexual harassment lawsuit — and those who worked with him.

Seligman testified that Garcetti staffers made comments to her over the past year that she took to mean that she should remain silent about Jacobs’ behavior. She said she encountered a Mafia-like culture that rewarded silence and was told that Jacobs “was protected by the mayor.”

At one point last summer, Seligman said, she confronted Guerrero, asking her why — considering Garcetti’s big dreams for his future — neither she nor the mayor had done anything about Jacobs.

“I just said ... why would he allow Jacobs to torpedo his career? Why would he protect him? Why won’t you say anything?” And she said, ‘I’ve tried, and there’s nothing I can do.’”

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Garcetti’s top aides “knew, discussed, and did nothing about the harassment and abuse that took place for years,” she said.

Seligman’s testimony comes at a critical time for Garcetti, who is awaiting word on whether he will be selected by President Biden for an overseas ambassador post. His wife, Amy Elaine Wakeland, recently gave her own deposition in the case. Meanwhile, Guerrero has been on leave following a scandal over her messages in a private Facebook group.

Garcetti, in a statement from his office, said he, his chief of staff and other senior aides did not witness the kissing and hugging incidents that were described by Seligman.

“No mayor’s staff or former staff or anybody else has ever faced retaliation or intimidation for making any personnel complaints or offering testimony in this case,” the statement said.

Guerrero, in her own statement, said Seligman informed her of “conflicts” with Jacobs. But Guerrero said she concluded that they came down to “differences in personality and work style.”

“Naomi Seligman absolutely never reported harassment of any kind to me,” she said.

Jacobs, through his lawyer, also disputed Seligman’s statements about him.

“Ms. Seligman’s characterizations of our interactions and relationship are wildly inaccurate and come as a shock to me,” he said.

Seligman’s deposition is one of several to be made public in a lawsuit filed last summer against the city by Los Angeles Police Department Officer Matthew Garza, who worked on the mayor’s security team. Garza has alleged that Jacobs sexually harassed him over a period spanning several years.

In his lawsuit, Garza said Jacobs touched him inappropriately and made crude comments. He also alleged that Garcetti witnessed some of Jacobs’ inappropriate behavior but took no actions to stop it.

The Facebook posts from Garcetti staffers contrasted sharply with the mayor’s public persona, where he has called for his office to ‘lead with love.’

Jacobs denies sexually harassing anyone, but conceded in his own deposition testimony that he might have hugged members of the security detail and made sexual jokes.

Garcetti has repeatedly denied witnessing any inappropriate behavior by Jacobs.

Seligman, who continued to attend functions at Getty House after leaving the mayor’s office in 2017, said she saw Jacobs hug and touch members of the security detail at those events. However, she testified that she could not recall seeing Jacobs touch Garza.

She said members of the detail did not enjoy the hugs and looked “wildly uncomfortable.”

Seligman also testified that Garcetti was present for some of Jacobs’ “power hugs” that she saw in the mayor’s suite.

Micha Star Liberty, Seligman’s lawyer, said her client was courageous for coming forward and “telling the truth under oath.”

Liberty said her client’s concerns have been repeatedly dismissed by Garcetti, his staff and Jacobs himself. “This is a tactic we’ve all seen too often to discredit survivors.”

Seligman’s testimony follows statements made by former mayoral aide Henry Casas in a deposition that it was “common knowledge” inside the mayor’s office that Jacobs engaged in inappropriate behavior toward male employees.

Casas described how Jacobs squeezed his biceps, gave him hugs and massaged his shoulders — all without Casas’ consent. He also testified that he saw Jacobs hug and touch Garza.

By contrast, Guerrero and former top Garcetti aide Matt Szabo testified in their depositions that they didn’t see inappropriate behavior by Jacobs.

Guerrero testified that she did not learn of any sexual harassment allegations against Jacobs until shortly before Garza filed his lawsuit.

In her deposition, Seligman said it was a common occurrence for Jacobs to “grab, hug, kiss, touch women and men.”

“I wish I could give you chapter and verse on every time that he touched or inappropriately hugged or kissed a female, but it would be literally like remembering every day and what time I logged into my computer. There’s just — it just is something that happened all the time. You would say it was an open secret, but it wasn’t a secret. It happened every day, all day long.”

In one incident in 2016, Seligman said, Jacobs came into her office and kissed her on the lips “for a long period” in front of her staff.

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She said she immediately went to Guerrero’s office and told her what happened. “She just kind of shook her head, rolled her eyes, got her sort of blank angry stare,” Seligman said.

Seligman testified that nothing was done by the mayor’s office about her complaint. She also said Guerrero discouraged her from filing a sexual harassment complaint against another unnamed staffer.

Seligman also testified that during her conversation with Guerrero last summer, Guerrero told her that she hoped they could “continue to be friends.” Seligman took this to mean that their friendship would end if she spoke out about Jacobs.

Guerrero, in her statement, said she was “surprised and disappointed” to learn years after Seligman’s departure that Seligman did not feel supported by her or the mayor’s office.

“Had she reported harassment of any kind to me, to the mayor, or to any of the resources available to them, we would have taken action immediately, as is our legal and moral obligation,” she said.

During her deposition, Seligman showed a text from a Garcetti staffer whose name is redacted. Seligman said the staffer had complained to her that Jacobs had hit on him and that he was “uncomfortable” over Jacobs’ advances.

Garcetti’s office would not identify the staffer in question, saying that person is protected by the court’s confidentiality rules. “Furthermore, the employee denies experiencing any sexual harassment,” the mayor’s representative said.

Seligman also testified that Jacobs kissed her husband on the lips when he walked into Jacobs’ home for a book party being hosted in his honor. The kiss went on “for some time,” Seligman said.

Seligman also accused Jacobs of using a racist term to describe an aide, calling him “China Boy” in the mayor’s suite. She could not recall if the mayor was present and acknowledged she never complained about the language.

Jacobs, in his deposition earlier this year, acknowledged using such language, but said that he apologized to the aide.


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